This debate is very timely because of the recent changes that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has made to its guidelines, which have angered the public and homeopathic vets alike and triggered two marches to the headquarters of the RCVS and a rally in Parliament Square, at which I had the honour of speaking. I am happy to see the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend George Eustice, in his place, not least because my family come from Redruth and were mining engineers—I am attempting to engender a little sympathy from him before I proceed.
The key issue is a new requirement in the guidelines that homeopathy should only be used in conjunction with conventional medicine. The second issue is the highly contentious assertions made by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons about a lack of evidence and safety and animal welfare, which are apparently related in this instance. The third issue is a lack of consultation.
The RCVS did not consult at all the people who know the subject—the Faculty of Homeopathy, the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons, the International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy, the European Committee for Homeopathy and the Homeopathy Research Institute. None of those organisations was consulted prior to the issuing of these guidelines. After the second march, the RCVS graciously agreed to meet a delegation, but sadly the delegation wrote to me afterwards saying:
“It became apparent that there was a total lack of understanding of the principles of homeopathy.”
It invited the RCVS to visit a practice, but I am not sure that that offer has been accepted.
I wrote to the RCVS, and it replied to my letter with, I regret to say, three glaring errors. First, it cited the 2010 report of the Science and Technology Committee, which it said
“concluded that the evidence base shows that homeopathy is not efficacious”.
It never did anything of the sort. I attended that Committee, and it was an evidence check. It only found that there was no evidence; it did not make any findings about effectiveness.
Secondly, the RCVS claims:
“we have not sought to remove choice as this remains”.
It does not. Choice has been removed, because before these guidelines came out, homeopaths could practise without using homeopathy and conventional medicine together.
Thirdly, the RCVS made claims about animal welfare issues. This is very important, and I asked a parliamentary question, to which my hon. Friend the Minister graciously replied:
“The Department does not have any evidence that shows that homeopathic vets are a risk to animal welfare by using homeopathy as an alternative treatment to conventional medicine options.”